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Probiotics in Poultry
The FAPC team are (from left) Alejandro Penaloza, visiting assistant professor, Zorba Hernandez, post-doctoral visiting scientist, and Patricia Rayas, FAPC cereal chemist. PHOTO/MANDY GROSS Sales of probiotic-fed chicken products in the United States have increased 34 percent in the last year due to the demand for antibiotic-free poultry. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Tyson Foods, the country’s largest chicken processor, announced it would eliminate the use of human antibiotics and use only probiotic-fed chickens in its operations by September 2017. This trend has researchers at Oklahoma State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center, a part of the Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, studying the implementation of probiotics in chicken feed. “The reason for the study was to help the food industry produce a healthier bird,” says Patricia Rayas, FAPC cereal chemist. “When the probiotics are ingested, they try to outweigh the bad bacteria.” Garnering results Probiotic strains are optimized and taken from a bioreactor. PHOTO/MANDY GROSS Rayas, along with Alejandro Penaloza, visiting assistant professor, and Zorba Hernandez, postdoctoral visiting scientist, began studying probiotics in November 2014. Other members of the team were graduate students Sabitri Gautam, Sudhir Pasupuleti, Thiago Montaigner Souza and Pryscila Velazco, as well as Ali Beker, poultry senior research specialist for OSU’s Department of Animal Science. The research team received 300 broiler chickens, which were housed at the OSU poultry farm for 42 days. The broilers were split into four test groups to try different preparations of probiotics.  The team fed the chickens probiotics as a supplement by using a mixture of probiotic strains created by Penaloza and a standard feed diet. Probiotics are used to boost the immune system and serve the microbiota in defending bacteria. “Our hypothesis was that the probiotics would improve the community of microbes in the gut of the chicken,” Rayas says. “The broilers were then fed the probiotics two different ways – mixed in the feed and liquid administration.” The final step of the study was to process the chickens in FAPC’s processing facility. Data was collected to calculate feed efficiency, and ground samples of the broilers were taken to the Cereal Chemistry Laboratory for further research. Results showed in the first two weeks that the broilers receiving probiotics had an increased weight gain and lower death rate. When a broiler gains weight, it gains muscle mass and produces more food, which increases potential profit and quantity. “When the main objective is reached, the isolated probiotics may be useful for the poultry to produce chicken that is free of antibiotics and better feed efficiency,” Hernandez says. Research has shown probiotics give broilers protection for intestinal integrity and help defend the immune system from unwanted bacteria. Finding probiotic strains FAPC’s Cereal Chemistry Laboratory housed the collection of the probiotic strains, which was sourced from wheat. Penaloza isolated the strains and selected those with high production of exoenzymes. “The advantage of using these strains of probiotics is that it helps improve the use of nutrients in the feed,” Penaloza says. “The strains also will stabilize the micro-organisms in the gut of the broilers.” Hard wheat, flour and water were fermented to enrich the microorganism’s spores, Penaloza says. The strains of probiotics were isolated, and those with high production of enzymes of interest were placed under intense heat to ensure they would survive when cooking the food pellet. The research team is working with OSU’s Technology Development Center to patent mixtures of probiotic strains for particular uses. TDC, which helps with the development of new products, the integration of new technology and the increase of capital investments, also funded this research. Future research Hernandez says further research is needed to evaluate other strains of probiotics and acquire more knowledge to measure the benefits of using probiotics in the poultry industry. “This research can bring health benefits to chickens and people by maintaining healthy microbial community in the intestine of the chickens,” he says. “This would maintain healthier chickens and reduce the use of antibiotics. Additionally, the use of probiotics also can generate ecological benefits and increase the efficiency of feed conversion of the broilers.” Rayas says the team has high hopes for future research projects. “Our hypothesis for the next research project is to use a spore-based probiotic that supports the balance of the micro ecology by simulating the colonization of beneficial bacteria,” she says. “This will improve the broilers intestinal health and enhance growth performance. In the future we hope to create a mixture so the industry can maintain a healthier intestine for the chickens.” The ultimate goal is to help the poultry industry continue to provide a safe product to its consumers. Story by Brittany Gilbert
Wed, 22 Mar 2017 10:49:16 -0500
Opening Prison Doors to Compassion
Jinks works with students Davelle Turner, Shawn McLaughlin and D.J. Grigsby on an ArtsAloud performance. PHOTO/BRIAN PETROTTA Many Americans see people who live on the margins of society as deserving of where they are. Not Jodi Jinks. One message that Jinks, an assistant professor of acting at Oklahoma State University, wants to get across to her students, and people in general, is the idea behind the old expression, “There by the grace of God go I.” Jinks started a theater program called ArtsAloud several years ago. In 2012, as a tenure-track professor, she brought it to OSU. In the program, now called ArtsAloud-OSU, Jinks goes into prisons and works with the incarcerated who write biographical stories, which are turned into plays performed by the prisoner-authors and OSU students. Empathy, humanity and compassion — that’s what Jinks says she is trying to accomplish working with prisoners in John Lilley Correctional Center, a men’s minimum-security prison in Boley, Okla. Jinks, through ArtsAloud-OSU, wants to show that people in prison are human beings just like anyone else, except they’ve made mistakes and are paying the price. Jodi Jinks, Department of Theatre Jinks leads classes of prisoners where participants write based on prompts or topics related to their lives that allow them to share who they are — stories of childhood, parents, choices and the circumstances that led them to where they are.  “Anything is valid. I allow for anything to be written about,” says Jinks. “They’re learning through the stories that their experiences are universal. I’ve heard them say they feel like human beings in the ArtsAloud classes.” The stories are performed by the prisoners for their fellow inmates in the prison’s general population. Jinks also shares the stories with her students at OSU who adopt the roles of the men and rehearse the performances on campus. Then Jinks takes them to John Lilly where they “give back” the stories by performing them for the inmates who wrote them. In her TEDxOStateU talk in 2015, Jinks described the give-back through the experience of one of her students who was asked by a prisoner if it felt dangerous to be there and perform their stories. The student replied that they were scared, but only because they didn’t want to mess up the life stories entrusted to them. “The prison students see their stories come to life through the OSU students,” Jinks told her TEDx audience. “And the students recognize the prisoner’s humanity and understand how razor-thin the line between incarceration and freedom can be.” Jinks has explored that line through ArtsAloud from the time she started the prison theater program in 2005 while teaching in Austin, Texas. There, she worked with female prisoners and often asked herself what the difference was between these incarcerated women and herself? What allowed her to pursue her dream of being an artist while these women were denied the opportunity to follow their own dreams? Because of that experience, Jinks dedicated her career to giving a voice to the incarcerated through theatrical performance. She has tried to introduce the program in women’s prisons in Oklahoma, but so far has by denied access been the state Department of Corrections. A group of students poses for a photo before a performance at an Oklahoma minimum-security prison. Photography is not allowed in Oklahoma prisons. PHOTO/BRIAN PETROTTA Jinks is practicing what is called applied theater — applying theater practices in nontraditional situations and venues, such as a prison. The concept is global; Jinks tells the story of a man from Manchester, England, who uses theater as conflict resolution between warring groups in Africa. This summer, Jinks traveled to Italy to spend time with Vito Minoia, a professor at the University of Urbino, who created a prison theater alliance there that works with the incarcerated and the mentally ill. Participants perform plays with local actors and students in surrounding communities. “I saw this amazing piece of theater written and performed by prisoners who were released for the evening and who worked with a group of actors,” says Jinks. “It was beautiful.” Inspired by the experience, Jinks said she returned to Oklahoma to continue her work to “reveal the soul of the prisoner.” Jinks and many others believe allowing the incarcerated to express themselves creatively can ease their transition back into society and reduce recidivism. She is working with OSU psychology professor Shelia Kennison on a survey of prisoners involved in ArtsAloud to collect data about self-compassion. They are waiting for Department of Corrections approval to conduct the survey. “Performance is a way to talk about being human,” Jinks said in her TEDx talk. “I believe that connection with one another leads to empathy and with increased empathy and self-respect, it becomes more difficult to hurt others or yourself.” Jinks hopes to one day expand ArtsAloud to all prisons in the state, but she needs more trust and confidence among prison administrators for that. She also wants to work with released prisoners and their families and continue to tell their stories in performances done in public spaces such as parks, schools and libraries, and at community events like festivals. “I’m trying to educate and inform so that people in Oklahoma, which has the fourth-largest prison population in the country, can experience how similar so many prisoners are to themselves regardless of skin color and economic status,” Jinks says. For more information, visit Story by Jeff Joiner
Tue, 11 Apr 2017 17:01:48 -0500
Movement in Aging
DeFreitas observes a subject’s musculoskeletal evaluation while Ph.D. students (from left) Zachary Pope, Ryan Colquhoun and Michelle Miller watch. As humans age, our motor function decreases, leading to a higher risk of falls and injuries, which can have devastating results. An ongoing study led by Oklahoma State University exercise physiology assistant professor Jason DeFreitas is researching what physiological changes cause the decline of motor function in aging. DeFreitas noted strong evidence in recent studies that suggests muscle spindles, sensory receptors found in vertebrate muscles, have a more direct role in motor function than previously believed. He designed a study to specifically test if losses in muscle spindle function are responsible for, or at least play a significant role in, age-related losses in motor function.   The study challenges existing paradigms about motor control, hypothesizing that age-related sensory losses precede motor losses and may actually cause them. Jason DeFreitas, College of Education. PHOTO/GARY LAWSON “We think that spindles may have a significant influence on motor control during every movement. However, this isn’t what is currently being taught,” DeFreitas says. DeFreitas joined Oklahoma State University in 2013 and brought with him an expertise in neuromuscular physiology and a passion for research.   “This is my first aging study. I’m taking my background in the neural control of movement, the spinal cord, and the neuromuscular system and applying it to the aging population,” he says. “I like solving puzzles, especially those that require creative solutions, (much like) designing a research study to answer the unknown.” In 2014, DeFreitas received funding from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST). Research funded by OCAST investigates causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of human diseases and disabilities and facilitates the development of innovative health care products and services. The funds, renewable for up to three years, have supported the initial phases of DeFreitas’ study, allowing him to purchase new equipment and hire research assistants. DeFreitas and his team test subjects ranging in age from 18 to 98 years old.  To date, more than 100 subjects have been tested. “We have tested a lot of healthy, college-age individuals, as well as older subjects who have severe motor and sensory deficits (over the age of 75). We’re working to add more subjects in the 30- to 60-year-old range to better define the aging process.” If they are able, participants visit the Applied Musculoskeletal and Human Physiology Laboratory on the Stillwater campus. The lab is one of only six in the United States and 25 worldwide equipped with the most recent advancement in motor unit technology, called surface dEMG. The system uses a non-invasive surface sensor to detect and measure the neural activity during voluntary movements. “The brain controls muscles through the use of neurons, and this state-of-the-art system allows us to non-invasively detect the activity and behavior of those neurons,” DeFreitas explains. During a lab visit, subjects’ balance is evaluated using a Biodex Balance System. Static measures, such as how much a person sways while standing, and dynamic measures, such as the ability to adjust to movements, are recorded. “Balance requires a unique integration of both our sensory and motor systems.  These assessments allow us to determine which of these systems, if any, has a deficit that could affect balance and fall risk,” DeFreitas says. The research team also gathers information about participants’ muscles, the force they produce and how the properties change under conditions such as fatigue and aging. Participants’ reflexes are tested with patellar tendon taps using a small reflex hammer (much like what is done during a physical). Ultrasound images of the thigh are also taken, to reveal the size and quality of the leg muscles, during the visit to the lab. If older individuals are unable to go into the lab, a mobile version of the tests can be performed. DeFreitas and his team have recruited study participants at the Stillwater Senior Center and visited assisted living centers and nursing homes in the area with their mobile testing center. Why it matters DeFreitas’ study is in the second phase of a five-phase plan. In the coming year, he is working on a proposal seeking funds from the National Institutes of Health that would support his work as it enters phase three. If, as DeFreitas hypothesizes, a strong relationship can be found between losses in muscle spindles and age-related motor losses, the next step is a long-term longitudinal study that will solidify the cause and effect relationship. Ultimately, DeFreitas would like to design training interventions and do outreach to educate retirement communities about what can be done to delay age-related losses in motor control.  While research is DeFreitas’ passion, he genuinely enjoys mentoring graduate students. His efforts in working with OSU graduate students were recognized in 2015 when he was named the Phoenix Faculty Award winner. The award is student-nominated and presented by the OSU Graduate and Professional Student Government Association. DeFreitas spends time with his doctoral students daily, including frequent brainstorming meetings. He involves them with manuscript peer-reviews, study design, grant writing and more. “I want to give my doctoral students experience that will help prepare them to be successful faculty members in the future. I learn from them as much as they learn from me. It’s a very active relationship and we all benefit from it. The Phoenix Award was a validation for me that I’m doing things the right way and that the extra work I put in is appreciated.”  Story by Christy Lang
Wed, 22 Mar 2017 10:26:05 -0500
Interdisciplinary, International and Intertwined
After being separated for a time by faculty positions 600 miles apart, Wouter Hoff Alhua Xie are together as researchers and teachers at OSU. PHOTO/BRIAN PETROTTA Wouter (“VOW-ter”) Hoff and Aihua (“A-wah”) Xie met at an international conference in Leiden, the Netherlands, in 1994.  Two years later, he was receiving the Netherlands’ Society of Biophysics award for best Ph.D. thesis (given every two years) and she was at the ceremony, for she was conducting experiments using an International Infrared Free Electron facility in the country.  Eventually they settled in at Oklahoma State, with offices next door to each other, though “settling” is not a word often associated with Hoff and Xie.  In fact, both came to the United States because they were unable to quiet the rumblings of academic pursuits in their home countries.    Xie was fortunate enough to be part of the first wave of Chinese students admitted to a higher education institution following a decadelong nationwide suppression of formal education brought on by the Cultural Revolution. The odds of admission were microbial, yet there was Xie, only six months removed from secondary school, admitted with — and above — those up to 10 years older. She further proved to be among the best of the best when she earned inclusion into a new international exchange program, which allowed her to study physics in the United States. Hoff also came to the United States in search of opportunity. In 2014, The Netherlands showed a population of just under 17 million people, somewhere between the populations of Illinois and New York. Though he was able to remain in his hometown of Amsterdam all the way through the completion of his thesis, he knew he would have to leave to continue his research. Speaking generally of his home country, Hoff says, “If you want to stay in science, you go abroad.” Xie’s Fourler Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) research laboratory holds great promise for future research. PHOTO/GARY LAWSON And that is precisely what Hoff and Xie did. Hoff landed the prestigious Damon Runyon-Walter Winchel Foundation post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Houston while Xie took a faculty position at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. In 1997, she came to OSU as an assistant professor of physics. Hoff spent two years as a post-doc at OSU before taking a full-time faculty position at the University of Chicago. He would not return to OSU until 2005. “For a number of years, we commuted 600 miles between Stillwater and Chicago, then the opportunity arose where we could both work at OSU, and that was a great solution to our ‘two-body’ problem,” Hoff says. The OSU Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics offered him an associate professorship in 2005 and a full professorship in 2011. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Chemistry and heads the graduate program in Microbiology/Molecular and Cell Biology. Xie was named a full professor in 2006. Today, Hoff and Xie are separated by fewer than 600 millimeters, with offices side-by-side in the Henry Bellmon Research Center. The beautiful, state-of-the-art facility houses, among other things, Xie’s Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) research laboratory, which has commanded approximately $1.6 million in outside research funding. She believes the NSF MRI funding for this Advanced FTIR Lab is greatly enhanced with the multidisciplinary environment created by the HBRC. “This building really capitalizes on collaborations, particularly interdisciplinary collaborations,” Xie says. She was a member of the planning committee, architect committee and the user committees for the HBRC and dreams of its expansion, or even a second building, on campus. Her enthusiasm for this emerging technology is palpable for she has just scratched the surface of its applications. Think of FTIR as an Xray, only at the chemical level. FTIR research could make life-changing discoveries in biomedical, bioenergy, and agricultural sciences. It has also been used to assess the authenticity of paintings by Leonardo DaVinci. Hoff sits across a table from Xie and it quickly becomes apparent the two still share a freshman’s excitement for each other. Though both are internationally respected researchers, th ey become almost embarrassed when discussing their own achievements, so one must fill in the blanks for the other. Twenty-six seconds after Hoff begins to tell of his journey to the United States, Xie interrupts. “Let me just add two things about Wouter,” she interjects. With deep fondness she mentions his thesis awards and adds another important fact he missed: Hoff discovered one of six known chromophores (molecules that detect color in nature) while at the University of Amsterdam. “I forgot all that stuff,” Hoff laughs. “It’s good to have such a great fan.” This discovery of P-coumaric acid has led to Hoff’s work being quoted more than 2,000 times in international research. Better still, it provided a springboard to the Cancer Research Foundation honoring him with its Young Investigator Award in 1999. Research is a passion for both Hoff and Xie but it is not their only passion. They are also dedicated to teaching and serving an international audience. Hoff is excited about a current program funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The program involves the creation of a Life Sciences Freshman Research Scholar cohort, which consisted of 32 OSU students in its first year, and Hoff’s involvement, which is directing students in his introductory microbiology course to conduct real, authentic research by isolating new strains of bacteria. The first wave of research resulted in three publications for three genomes isolated by first-year students. The idea of combining research with instruction is carried on by Xie with her upper-level and graduate physics students. She believes it is the best way to cure what has been described as the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) “crisis” in the United States. “I think we’re both trying to do two themes,” Hoff says of their teaching methods. “Tone is active learning, not just looking at a PowerPoint. The second theme is ‘authentic.’ It is not a fake exercise. It is really something useful, relevant, and interesting.” Another key to success in the classroom is simply to listen to the student, Xie notes. “If you just tell the student, ‘Do exactly this,’ that’s when we bore them to death,” Xie says. “When you learn for yourself, you are motivated.” Along with research and teaching, Hoff feels the third pillar of their success is service. He became the graduate program coordinator for microbiology and revamped the first-year graduate curriculum in microbiology and created an accelerated master’s program. Additionally, Hoff serves as the editor of the highly respected Journal of Biological Chemistry. A turning point for Xie came in 2005 when she helped organize a National Science Foundation-funded workshop for professional skill development for women physicists in 2005. The program has become a yearly event, and Xie still uses its skills today. Xie continues to take down stereotypes about women in physics, culminating in her election as chair of the Biological Physics Commission of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics in 2015. The commission, known as C6, promotes international cooperation in biological physics from both developing and developed countries. She is already organizing a meeting in Brazil for the summer of 2016. She will be joined by 10,000 physicists.   “So, what are you going to do next?” Hoff jokes. The punch line may be on us. Armed with industrial-sized beakers full of ideas — and already having shown the ability to bring their ideas to life — Hoff and Xie actively search for the next thing and have little interest in repeating an experiment. “What we are striving to do is to make a new step — boldly go where no one has gone before,” Hoff says. As large as their imaginations may be, it is unlikely Hoff and Xie could have predicted they would settle in Stillwater. At OSU, they found the perfect place to build upon their three pillars of research, teaching and service. Story by Brian Petrotta            
Wed, 22 Mar 2017 10:17:30 -0500
Forget Green, Turf is Orange & Black
Turf industry professionals listen to presentations about OSU bermudagrass varieties at the 2015 Turf and Landscape Field Day. PHOTO/TODD JOHNSON Sports enthusiasts may not realize it but they are seeing a Cowboy connection when they watch home games of Major League Baseball’s Kansas City Royals and the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins, even if it is literally being trampled underfoot. “We didn’t start our bermudagrass development program with the intention of specifically turning out high-end turf for major sports; the resulting products have just been what a number of professional and amateur organizations have needed,” says Dennis Martin, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension turfgrass specialist and one of five OSU Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources researchers credited with developing Latitude 36, the bermudagrass variety used at those sports complexes. Latitude 36 also is the turf of choice for the practice fields of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens, and as the football, baseball and track turfs at the University of Virginia. Another OSU-developed variety, Patriot, is on the practice fields of the Indianapolis Colts, the football and soccer fields at Purdue University and the Chesapeake Energy Roof Sports Field in Oklahoma City. And that is not counting the “home-grown advantage” Patriot and yet another variety, Riviera, have been providing Cowboy nation. Patriot bermudagrass is on OSU’s Hedge practice field complex and the two natural grass practice football fields east and southeast of the Sherman Smith indoor facility. Riviera is on the outfield at OSU’s Allie P. Reynolds Stadium and was used on two baseball fields at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. There is even an orange and black connection at the University of Oklahoma, where the Sooners renovated from TifSport to Latitude 36 bermudagrass on Owen Field last year. “Start talking about golf courses, and the list expands almost exponentially,” Martin says. “It’s fitting, in a way, as it was a series of grants from the United States Golf Association beginning in 1986 and continuing through the 1990s and 2000s that really helped usher in the modern era of OSU bermudagrass development.” OSU professors Charles Taliaferro and Mike Kenna of DASNR’s Department of Agronomy were the principal investigators associated with the 1986 USGA grant, building upon national research and the work of Wayne Huffine, an OSU professor and researcher of forages and pastures from the 1950s into the 1980s. Huffine and his colleagues developed Oaklawn centipede and played a major role in the development of Sunturf bermudagrass. OSU released Guymon in 1982, the first seed-propagated variety better adapted to more northern latitudes than bermudagrass produced in Arizona and California. “Our successes today would not have happened without the work of Charles, who retired in 2005; Mike, who is now the USGA director of research; and Doug Breede, my predecessor at OSU and now director of research with Jacklin-Simplot Seed,” Martin says, “not to mention the patience of DASNR administration through the years because none of this happened overnight.” The 1990s were a time of trial and tribulation, with no final product to show for the efforts of the OSU Bermudagrass Development Team. “It takes about 10 years to work through necessary steps such as germplasm selection, hybridization and evaluation at the local, regional and national levels,” says Yanqi Wu, holder of OSU’s Meibergen Family Endowed Professorship in Plant Breeding. “But by the early 2000s, we were releasing Yukon, Rivera and Patriot, and then in about 2010, we released Latitude 36 and NorthBridge.” Part of what makes OSU’s bermudagrass development efforts unique is the size and multi-disciplinary make-up of the research team. “While people expect us to draw upon the expertise of researchers in the plant and soil sciences, our ultimate goal of giving industry and consumers a high-quality product has led us to draw upon DASNR resources in agricultural economics, horticulture, landscape architecture and more,” Wu says. “Jeff Anderson retired, and we still call on him.” Anderson, longtime OSU horticulture professor of plant stress physiology, provided key expertise on freeze tolerance, working closely with the leading plant breeders, Taliaferro and his successor Wu. “Improved cold tolerance is one of the major aspects our bermudagrass varieties are known for nationally,” Wu says. “Bermudagrass is a southern grass, traditionally susceptible to winter kill, but our varieties are allowing for its expansion into and use in more northerly climes.” Bermudagrass is a popular turf choice on lawns as well, thanks to its sod-forming growth habit, long-lived perennial nature, ability to rebound from heavy traffic and resistance to many environmental stresses such as heat and drought. It is also exceptionally tolerant to frequent low mowing, a boon to golf course managers and homeowners alike. Latitude 36 was intensively tested at OSU for seven years before researchers at other land-grant institutions in the southern United States and the central transition zone working through the National Turf Evaluation Program examined the grass. At the conclusion of the 2007-2012 NTEP trials, Latitude 36 claimed overall top honors as the nation’s best bermudagrass variety. Other OSU-developed bermudagrasses such as Patriot and Riviera lay claim to a similar notable heritage of research-proven quality and performance. “While the sports connection is eye-opening, it’s at the local level that our OSU-developed turf-grasses may be having the greatest benefit, as lawns, in parks and other venues that directly affect a significant number of people and the communities in which they live,” Martin says. “We’ve also been adding to both basic and applied research that will lead to further advances and improved varieties.” OSU faculty from the division’s departments of plant and soil sciences, horticulture and land-scape architecture and agricultural economics participated in a multistate, five-year U.S. Department of Agriculture – National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant that was recently concluded. “The NIFA – Specialty Crop Research Initiative Turfgrass Breeding grant supported or partially supported research published in 17 journal articles and 13 conference abstracts; the training of 20 graduate students, 14 undergraduate researchers and three post-docs; four consumer surveys; two cultivars; and more than 60 workshops, seminars and Extension activities,” Martin says. “That is science in action.”  Story by Donald Stotts
Wed, 22 Mar 2017 10:04:59 -0500
Flight in a Sticky Situation
Santhanakrishnan with students on his team including (from left) graduate student Vishwa Kasoju, Terrill, and undergraduate Lydia Bunting. PHOTO/PHIL SHOCKLEY The smallest flying insects known are less than one millimeter long — and yet, they wield considerable ecological and agricultural importance. These insects serve important ecological roles such as the transmission of pollen during feeding, acting as invasive pests of agriculturally important plants and biological vectors of microbial plant pathogens. Examples of these insects include thrips, parasitoid wasps and fairy flies with wing sizes as small as a quarter of millimeter. Since 2007, Arvind Santhanakrishnan, Ph.D., an OSU assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, has been investigating the fluid dynamic limits of flapping flight at intermediate to smallest length scales. The aerodynamics of flight in these small insects remains relatively unexplored, but Santhana-krishnan and his team keep moving forward. His research helps with understanding the single insect aerodynamics that is needed for the development of mathematical models of their collective dispersal. Arvind Santhanakrishnan (right) works with graduate student Christopher Terrill in the OSU Applied Fluid Mechanics Laboratory. PHOTO/PHIL SHOCKLEY When the wings of small insects clap together during the flapping motion and then fling apart, there is the expectation that flight would not be efficient, but it is. This surprising fact influenced the research and has sent Santhanakrishnan and his team in a different direction.  “We can use their wing design and locomotion mechanisms to potentially design an autonomous flying or swimming vehicle that can be more highly miniaturized than what we currently have out there,” says Santhanakrishnan. Designing machinery that takes advantage of such phenomena like small robotic vehicles that move amphibiously across water-air interfaces would be a breakthrough innovation. Santhanakrishnan and his team discovered that the wings of these small insects are basically like a thread of silk with numerous hairs. Their wings contain small bristles and very little solid membrane. Before studying tiny insects closely, he thought their flapping motion and wing design were the same as bigger insects. “I learned the hard way,” says Santhanakrishnan. “I was confident just after getting my Ph.D. in fluid mechanics that all insects should fly in the same manner. But the tiny insects don’t.” Santhanakrishnan started his research at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill during his postdoctoral work. He was mentored by Laura Miller, Ph.D., an associate professor at UNC in mathematics and biology who later became a collaborator on this research together with Ty Hedrick, Ph.D., an associate professor at UNC in biology. Models of insect wings are tested in an aquarium filled with sticky glycerin. “Dr. Santhanakrishnan is a wonderful collaborator,” says Miller. “He has incredible energy and enthusiasm for this project and everything else he works on.” To pursue their research, Santhanakrishnan and Miller recently received a three-year collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation for $449,775. “The research in our new NSF grant is focused specifically on understanding the flow through the bristled wings common to many tiny insects,” says Miller. Because these insects can be just a quarter of millimeters, they are very hard to see. They flap their wings like a hummingbird at 200 times a second. Collaboration with biologists is important to this research and offers an opportunity to see another perspective of this problem. “I am an engineer. I can understand biology by reading textbooks, but certainly not to the extent of somebody that makes their living being a biologist,” says Santhanakrishnan. Studying these small insects is challenging but not impossible. By cooperating with other disciplines and universities, Santhanakrishnan’s research has a larger chance for success. Santhanakrishnan is the director of OSU’s Applied Fluid Mechanics Laboratory, which specializes in interdisciplinary studies of locomotion, transport and pumping functions in biological systems to understand structure-function relationships. To study the flight of tiny insects, Santhanakrishnan’s lab developed a robotic platform, in which scaled-up physical models of tiny insect wings are directed to flap using several electronic motors with the same movement patterns as what is observed in the actual insects. In order to create the same frictional resistance that a tiny insect wing experiences when moving through air, the larger model wings are immersed inside a 27-gallon aquarium that is filled with sticky glycerin. This project gives Santhanakrishnan a unique chance to train OSU students in conducting hands-on interdisciplinary research that integrates engineering and biology. Santhanakrishnan leads a team of numerous graduate, undergraduate and even high school students. “He’s always available to discuss what’s going on with your research,” says Chris Terrill, a graduate student in mechanical and aerospace engineering. “And he always has helpful suggestions.” He is a great role model to students by challenging himself and working on difficult problems, he adds. “Not many people are looking at these tiny insects,” says Santhanakrishnan. “And I think it’s mainly because it’s not easy to imitate something that is so small and simultaneously complex.” He was told many times that his research topic would be difficult, but that did not change his mind. Chosen students can travel to UNC to participate in this research in a different environment. The chance to work with a diverse group of UNC students and faculty provides opportunities to experience truly interdisciplinary research first-hand and be prepared for the future. “The students who come here will learn how to operate high-speed camera equipment, perform stereo calibrations of multi-camera arrays and analyze the resulting video data,” says UNC’s Hedrick. His willingness to share his experience and findings about his research helps Santhanakrishnan have an important impact on his students, who find his passion for this subject incredible. His research has a lot of potential and will impact the future of insect dispersal ecology and engineering fields.  Story by Marketa Souckova
Wed, 22 Mar 2017 09:58:06 -0500
Building Higher Education
John Winters, Spears School of Business. PHOTO/HEATH SHELTON Supply In his working paper, The Production and Stock of College Graduates for U.S. States, Winters focuses on supply-side effects of higher education. As he conducted research across the United States, he found that education levels vary from state to state. “My research says part of the reason why some areas have more educated populations is that they produce more education,” says Winters, an assistant professor in the Department of Economics and Legal Studies in the Spears School of Business. “More simply, educating two more people from a state will on average result in one more college graduate in the state’s labor force,” says Winters. The theory is that as areas invest more resources in education, they will increase their human capital — the knowledge and skills that individuals acquire through education, training and experience. In contrast, an area may produce education to grow its human capital, but people sometimes choose to relocate. Demand The demand aspect is discussed in Winters’ working paper, Do Earnings by College Major Affect College Graduate Migration? Areas that produce education must be aware of the specific skills and college majors that local employers are seeking. If an area educates its population in fields that employers seek, it is more likely to lose that human capital. “Areas are going to be better at keeping the graduates that have the human capital that they reward,” says Winters. In many cases, this reward is a higher salary. Winters finds that “a 10 percent increase in major earnings in one’s home state reduces the probability of out-migration by 1 percentage point.” Other Research Winters also looked at the effects of merit programs on college majors. His article on merit programs was published in the October issue of the Journal of Labor Economics. “One of the things that we found was that the merit programs were discouraging students from majoring in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields,” says Winters. Winters and David L. Sjoquist, professor of economics at Georgia State University, also found evidence that the grade-point average renewal requirements of these merit programs have an impact on what major a recipient of the scholarship will choose. In 2015, Winters received the William H. Miernyk Research Excellence Medal for the best paper presented at the Southern Regional Science Association Meetings. He also received the Richard W. Poole Research Excellence Award from the Spears School of Business in 2013 and 2014. “My research suggests that there are large individual and social benefits of education, but there are ways that education can be improved,” says Winters.  Story by Lindsey Corbitt
Wed, 22 Mar 2017 09:44:35 -0500
Ancient Berry’s Rich Future
Daniel Lin and his colleagues discovered in animal trials benefits to the eyes, including improving diabetic retinopathy, by consuming dietary wolfberries. PHOTO/DANIEL LIN Little red and orange wolfberries have been used in China for centuries to ensure longevity and treat age-related conditions of the liver and the eye. But those qualities and many more have only recently been confirmed by researchers using modern high performance analytic methods. College of Human Sciences assistant professor in nutritional sciences Daniel Lin and his colleagues are providing evidence of the berry’s effectiveness on retinal degeneration. Wolfberries, or Goji berries, are the fruits of two closely related perennial plants, Lycium barbarum and Lycium Chinense, which are native to Asia and southeast Europe. Commercial production mainly comes from plantations in the Ningxia Hui and Xinjiang Uyghur regions in China.  The bioactive components in wolfberries include polysaccharides and carotenoids, among others. The fruits contain high levels of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are believed to have significant importance in eye health. Lin and his colleagues studied the preventative effects of dietary wolfberry on diabetic retinopathy.  During the study, mice were fed a diet that included 1 percent wolfberries. The control group’s diet did not include wolfberries. High-performance liquid chromatography indicated mice fed the wolfberry diet for eight weeks had increases of around 13.7 percent in overall zeaxanthin and lutein concentrations in liver and retinal tissues. Production of wolfberries has moved to the U.S. with the berries now being grown in Arizona, California and Nevada. PHOTO/DANIEL LIN Retinal damage caused by diabetes is the leading cause of vision impairment and blindness in working age adults. Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) is a major cause of the progression of the disease. No permanent cure is currently available. Mitochondria are often referred to as the powerhouse of the cell because they generate most of the cell’s supply of adenosine triphosphate, the source of the cell’s energy. Mitochondrial dysfunction is the primary indicator of retinal degeneration in diabetes. Mitochondria damage in mice fed wolfberries for eight weeks was completely reversed. The study showed wolfberry improved dispersion of mitochondria and increased pigment granules in the retina’s epithelium cells. The vascular system in the retina provides nutrients and oxygen to the inner retina; new blood vessels supply the outer retina. In diabetes, elevated blood glucose, hyperglycemia and blood flow decline result in hypoxia or oxygen shortages in the retina. Dietary wolfberries ameliorated hypoxia and slowed down vascular dysfunction in the retina of the mice. “In the study, dietary wolfberry restored the thickness of the whole retina, in particular the inner nuclear layer and photoreceptor layer,” Lin says.  “To our knowledge, this is the first report that wolfberry bioactive constituents prevented or delayed the onset of the disease of diabetic retinopathy in an animal mode,” Lin says. “We believe the inhibition of hypoxia may be beneficial to maintaining healthy vision for diabetic patients,” he says. “The bioactive components in wolfberry may very well delay the progression of retinal degeneration for people suffering from diabetes.”  Not satisfied with one aspect of wolfberries’ impact on health, Lin is also studying its effects on obese mice. “High-fat diets cause mitochondrial dysfunction, and a study of obese mice indicates wolfberry dietary intervention can lead to the prevention of excessive amounts of triglycerides and other fats in liver cells,” Lin says. With the burgeoning costs associated with pharmaceutical treatments, research-based evidence of the lasting effects of nutraceuticals such as wolfberries will have tremendous impact on the health and well-being of the world’s population. Lin said the western world is taking notice of the tiny fruit’s potential as wolfberry production is being found in Arizona, California and Nevada.  “Shipping the fresh fruit is difficult, so most of the fruit from China is dried,” he says.  “The dried fruit is still highly effective, but as with all fruits, fresh wolfberry is best.” It appears the ancient remedy may well soon be the next new functional food to enhance and improve health. Story by Julie Barnard            
Wed, 22 Mar 2017 09:28:49 -0500
A Walk to Wellness
OSU-Tulsa Health Education and Promotion students Megan York walks a labyrinth in the Main Hall Commons. PHOTO COURTESY OSU-TULSA Walking the circular path of a labyrinth is a study in relaxation for Megan York, a health education and promotion major. The quiet, dim corner of Oklahoma State University-Tulsa’s Main Hall Commons that houses the Sparq Meditation Labyrinth provides an opportunity for York and others on campus to engage in an increasingly popular wellness exercise. “Evidence shows that the circular walking patterns of labyrinths help with calmness and mental focus,” says Amy Bowersock, clinical associate professor of health education and promotion. “This calming, meditative effect can have a substantial impact on stress and adds another dimension to our health and wellness efforts.” Bowersock, whose research interests have focused mainly on physical activity, has begun a study to gather data about the wellness benefits of labyrinths and their meditative effects. “We are learning more about users’ perceptions of their own personal wellness and how they are benefiting from using the labyrinth,” Bowersock says. “Part of the challenge of this research is understanding how individual perceptions about meditation and wellness influence the actual benefits users experience.” A labyrinth is a series of winding pathways in a circle around a central point. Users follow the curved path to get to the center. Unlike a maze, a traditional labyrinth has no dead ends. “Research has shown that the winding pathways enable people to clear their minds from distractions and focus on being in the moment,” says Bowersock. “This practice helps people refocus while they are walking through the labyrinth.” Wellness innovator Lynn Wallace, access and collection services librarian at OSU-Tulsa, proposed bringing the Sparq labyrinth to OSU-Tulsa. Helping her mother fight terminal cancer after having just recovered from her own round of cancer treatment had left Wallace emotionally drained. “I found several meditative ways personally to cope, including coloring, cross-stitching and utilizing a meditation labyrinth,” Wallace says. “After talking to Dr. Bowersock about coping during stressful times, I realized that this was a missing piece of our campus wellness offerings.” The Sparq Meditation Labyrinth was developed by Matt Cook, emerging technologies librarian at the University of Oklahoma. It has traveled the country to promote the health benefits of mindful meditation at events and academic institutions. Using a touch-screen interface, the Sparq labyrinth projects a lighted pathway onto the floor. Users are able to select from a variety of culturally significant patterns to suit their mood or meditation goals. The entire process generally takes about five minutes from start to finish. “Concentration improves, stress hormones are reduced and a sense of calm produces a better end product for the user after a session in the labyrinth,” Wallace says. “Mindfulness meditation while walking the labyrinth enables participants to focus on that moment — being present — not on the paper due in an hour or the test in the next class.” It also provides a beneficial alternative to consuming high-calorie energy drinks or making unhealthy choices to aid concentration and studying, Wallace says. According to the University of Edinburgh, labyrinths date back more than 4,000 years, and ancient remains have been found all across the world. Some were purely decorative, while others were constructed for walking. Bowersock sees many avenues of research branching out from this initial project. She is interested in how adding mindful meditative activities affects a person’s overall physical activity. “The Setchenov Phenomenon has shown that individuals who are fatigued to exhaustion can reduce fatigue by utilizing a diverting activity while exercising,” Bowersock says. “I’m interested to measure the effect on fatigue that these meditative activities would have on individuals while they are exercising in the wellness center.” She is also interested in working with youth sports and high school programs to see if the use of the labyrinth could be used for developing mental training and deflating strong emotions in highly stressful situations. Students in the Health Education and Promotion program also used the labyrinth for several wellness-related class projects during the fall semester. The temporary labyrinth installation on the OSU-Tulsa campus has elicited a positive response from OSU’s wellness program. The university is looking at add a permanent labyrinth installation on the Stillwater campus, and OSU-Tulsa is looking for ways to adding a permanent labyrinth on campus as well. “A labyrinth provides an opportunity to students, faculty and staff to take a short walk and regroup mentally,” Bowersock says. “The calming and health benefits users will receive from using the labyrinth are an innovative addition to OSU’s America’s Healthiest Campus® initiatives.”   Story by Sean Kennedy            
Tue, 21 Mar 2017 16:47:55 -0500
Arts and Sciences? Yes, please
Students take a break from research to pose for a group photo at Joulter Cays in the Bahamas. Many students working toward a science degree rarely have the opportunity to learn how to properly sketch and paint a landscape scene. But a study abroad trip to the Bahamas through the College of Arts and Sciences provides this unique opportunity. Associate professor Liz Roth and professor Todd Halihan combined arts and sciences for the study abroad course. Students researched the hydrogeology of carbonate platforms for the science part of the class. “Very few arts and sciences courses are actually both arts and science,” Halihan says. A rainbow crosses the sky at the Forfar Field Station, where students stayed during the course. Several parents of participants wondered, why the Bahamas? Halihan says it was the perfect location for students to perform their own hydrogeology research projects. “There are very few places in the modern world where limestone actually forms, so the Bahamas is one of the few active carbonate platforms in the world,” says Halihan, a geology professor. “All on one island, you have rock being made, rock being dissolved and the water changing from salt water to freshwater, so you have all the reactions.” The research projects led the students to several interesting parts of the islands, including a blue hole that the late Jacques Cousteau — known for his research on all water life forms — dove himself. The art of the class included sketching and watercolors. The nature and landscape of the Bahamas provided a perfect background for students to learn. “I was able to teach a quick class for them on how to draw,” says Roth, associate professor in the department of art, graphic design and art history. “Some of the students did really well with the drawing. At one point, we went to Fresh Creek and some of the students who weren’t eating conch were out sketching.” Research findings are logged into a computer while diving at Cousteau’s Blue Hole. “She [Liz Roth] actually taught us how to draw and there were plenty of drawing opportunities, especially for landscape,” says Cullen Pickens, graduate student in geology. “I really enjoyed the drawing aspect. It was fun to sit there and sketch and see it [the Bahamas] from that perspective.” The course also provided a lesson in culture and hospitality. “We snuck in quite a bit of culture,” Halihan says. “They also got to eat a bunch of food they never had in their life.” Roth agreed the conch was great, as was the local generosity. “The folks who work there at the field station were very informative and really assisted people to understand a bit about the unique ecological environment they have there,” Roth says. The students also took care of the Forfar Field Station — located in North Blanket Sound, Andros Island. “We stay at the field station, which is somewhere in between because it is not a resort paradise,” Halihan says. “It is a family island. So you’re staying in a cabin with no AC and no heat. You’re eating cafeteria style — by no means fancy. It is old school, cabin style camping. But the other thing is that the students got to see a different version of life than what you see up here.” That included being responsible for serving the food at the field station. The students also experienced true island life, which involves importing food and other necessities. Liz Roth’s sketch of Cousteau’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas. “We ran out of coffee for a day and the reason we did is because one of the storms came by and the food barge couldn’t get in to give us food and coffee,” Pickens says. “So half of us had to go without coffee for a day.” Because the trip took place during the holiday season, students experienced the local holiday traditions, including the annual Christmas pageant. “They [students] got to sing in the Christmas pageant because the locals fully expected us to, so it was hard to turn them down,” Halihan says. Pickens says the study abroad trip offered him opportunities to learn about multiple areas, not just hydrogeology. “It was a whole new world,” he says. “We didn’t learn just hydrogeology, we learned everything from marine biology to history to culture to food. They had unique, very interesting food and the snorkeling was great. Going around and just seeing how the island works.” The course had 10 students. Halihan and Roth are planning to continue the course next year and open it up to the broader university. “This next fall will be a little bit different, since we are adapting it to be an introductory geology class,” says Halihan. “This will allow more students to participate.” Halihan also has a long-term goal for the hydrogeology course. “[Forfar Field Station] is a really good facility for geologists, and we have some of the best carbonate geologists in the world in our department,” says Halihan. “So it ties in with our research and teaching efforts. It is also home of the Bahamian Ag School that is trying to get started. It meets well with all the missions of OSU. So if we ended up with a long-term program, where we did work with College of the Bahamas and some of their programs, that would be really useful for both campuses.” Photo Courtesy / Todd Halihan Story by Karolyn Bolay
Tue, 21 Mar 2017 16:41:26 -0500